Hilary Mantel wins Man Booker Prize for a record second time
'You wait 20 years for a Booker Prize and two come along at once...' is how Hillary Mantel reacted last night when it was announced that she had won the Man Booker prize for the second time.
When Hilary Mantel wrote her first historical novel, it was turned down by a string of publishers who said her work was too weighty for readers who preferred “chick lit in long frocks”.
When Bring Up The Bodies won Britain’s foremost literary award last night, its author could not resist a joke.
“I don’t know,” said Hilary Mantel. “You wait 20 years for a Booker Prize and two come along at once...”
Mantel became the first British author - and the first woman - to win the Man Booker Prize twice. Bring Up The Bodies beat five other shortlisted titles including Will Self’s Umbrella, the bookmaker’s favourite.
Not bad for an author whose first historical novel was turned down by a string of publishers who said her work was too weighty for readers who preferred “chick lit in long frocks”.
Bring Up The Bodies chronicles the downfall of Anne Boleyn through the eyes of Thomas Cromwell, chief minister to Henry VIII. The judges said it “utterly surpassed” its predecessor, Wolf Hall, which won the prize in 2009.
Only two writers have done the double before: JM Coetzee and Peter Carey, who hail from South Africa and Australia respectively.
Peter Stothard, chairman of the judges, hailed Mantel as “the greatest English prose writer” of modern times and praised her ability to re-cast one of the most familiar episodes in British history.
“This is a bloody story of the death of Anne Boleyn but Hilary Mantel is a writer who thinks through the blood,” he said.
“It is a well-trodden story and yet she has the ability to bring it to life as though for the first time.”
He compared Mantel’s portrayal of Thomas Cromwell to Don Corleone. “There is certainly a Godfather element to this book, including the moral ambiguity,” he said.
The win came as a happy surprise for Mantel, 60, who said when shortlisted: “Nobody, including me, expects a writer to do it twice. But it would not be human to not want to win.”
Accepting the award to cheers from the audience at London’s Guildhall, Mantel said: “I have to do something very difficult now: I have to go away and write the third part of the trilogy.
“I assure you I have no expectations that I will be standing here again. But I regard this as an act of faith and a vote of confidence. Thank you.”
Later she was asked if Bring Up The Bodies was her best book. She replied: “They are all so different. This one is completely different to Wolf Hall.
“I think it’s probably a more fully achieved book than Wolf Hall. But I think Wolf Hall was trying to do something far more difficult in that it was trying to create a whole world for people to step into and trying to span a great many years.
“This was a tauter narrative spanning nine months and heading in one direction only.”
Mantel, a former social worker, first attempted historical fiction in 1979 with A Place of Greater Safety, set during the French Revolution. It was rejected by every publisher who read it and did not see the light of day until 1992.
However, such is her popularity now that the BBC has snapped up the rights to Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies, and is turning them into a six-part period drama.
This year’s judging panel included Dan Stevens, the Downton Abbey actor, and was chaired by Sir Peter, editor of the Times Literary Supplement.
There was disagreement over which book should win this year but the judges arrived at Bring Up The Bodies via “a rigorous process of literary criticism”, he said.
Nevertheless, Bring Up The Bodies has proved to be the most “readable” book on the shortlist, selling over 100,000 copies so far in Britain.
When Mantel won in 2009, she joked that she would spend the money on “sex, drugs and rock’n’roll”. And this year? “Rehab,” she replied.